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 On the Bloodied Cobblestones

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PostSubject: On the Bloodied Cobblestones   Mon Apr 13, 2009 8:45 pm

August 12th, 1714 - Bristol, England

The heat was stifling. It rose from the rough-hewn cobbles, beat down on the faces of the occasional passer-by. Workers and tradesmen, enjoying a brief respite from the day's work, lounged in the shadows. Stray dogs whined and swatted lazily at flies while the children ran barefoot in the street. Their laughter echoed down the narrow alleyways, mingling with the steady ringing of the blacksmith's hammer.

The stillness was broken by a sudden pounding of hooves and rattle of wheels. A carriage, drawn by two sweating horses, burst into the market square. Men ducked into doorways and archways while women rushed to pull children from the street. The square plunged into utter chaos.

"Faster, damn you!" came a voice from inside the carriage. "I'm already late, and punctuality is of utmost importance!"

Bystanders scattered and fled as the carriage tore across the lane, trampling produce and overturning market stalls. With a wild clatter, it dashed over the cobblestone lanes and careened around tight corners. At last, one of the wheels came to a hault with a sickening jolt and a dull crunch, causing the horses to rear and plunge.

The door of the carriage swung open, and the occupant emerged. He was tall, well-dressed, his skin a sickly pale. His face was proud, aquiline, and quite handsome. He eyes the crowd coldly, turning to gaze at the crumpled form beneath the wheel. A poor man, clad in rags, grabbed up the bloodied body and laid it at the nobleman's feet. It was a street urchin, limp and lifeless.

"He's dead!" The man shrieked, his face twisted in wild desparation. "Killed!"

Lord Upton gave a wave of his hand, summoning two footmen to restrain him. The noble gave him an icy stare.

"Who is this man? Why does he make such an abominable noise?"

"My lord..." sobbed the man, "...I am Brian, a porter. This was my son, my Michael..."

"Your son?" He snorted. "He should have been more careful. Furthermore, he's made me late to an important meeting."

"Have pity, my lord! My child, my only child..."

The aristocrat smiled, reaching into his porse and retrieving a single silver coin, letting it drop at the poor man's feet.

"Here's my pity. Use it to buy some decent clothes."

A loud voice rang out from the gathered crowd.

"Swine! Filth!"

The square became deathly silent, the mob parting to reveal the speaker. He was tall, lanky, and unkempt in appearance - his long coat was streaked with mud, and his hair was a wild mop. His eyes burned, and his face was filled with anger. A young face, the owner no older than eighteen. It was Reynaud, the printer's apprentice.

The nobleman gave another idle gesture. Strong hands clamped onto Reynaud's shoulders, pulling him roughly forward. He found himself standing face-to-face with the aristocrat, meeting Upton's haughty gaze without flinching.

"What," spat Lord Upton, "Is your name, boy?"

"Why should I tell you?" Reynaud spoke through gritted teeth, his voice full of loathing.

He bit his lip as the noble cuffed him, hard, on the cheek. One of the footmen shoved him to the ground, and he landed heavily on the cobblestones. Upton stood above him, a wry smirk on his face.

"Men have hanged, boy, for lesser offenses. You're lucky I'm in such a charitable mood. You'll keep your life, what little it may be worth..."

Reynaud was about to respond, but this was interrupted by a swift kick in the groin. His attacker smiled as he watched the apprentice double over in pain. But Reynaud's eyes burned with the same hatred, the same angry fire.

The apprentice would always remember that day. The screaming carriage wheels, a father's grief, a nobleman's cruelty. And the blood, the blood on the cobblestones.
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